Midway through the 42nd over of England’s innings, Jos Buttler pushed a drive through the covers.
The was shot greeted with cheers as the fielder sweeping on the point boundary set off, the decibel level rising with every metre the ball travelled and ending with an almighty roar as it won the race to the boundary cushion.
England still needed 26 to win. With only two wickets remaining, the match was far from won but this was a crowd fully immersed in the contest, perhaps the first real contest of the series, and every run counted. Four of them were invaluable.
After all the accolades that followed England’s world-record 481 at Trent Bridge, thoroughly deservedly though they were, it was the lowest scoring match of the series that, ultimately, brought the most drama.
2:25 Catch up with all the action from the fifth and final ODI between England and Australia at Old Trafford
Of course, it helps when you have a player of Buttler’s brilliance at the heart of it. His first impact on the game came with the gloves; a lightning-fast stumping, a great show of athleticism to run out Tim Paine and more sharp thinking to affect another run out helped to bowl out Australia cheaply.
“Mesmerising” was how Eoin Morgan described his efforts with the bat while Michael Atherton argued that it was Buttler’s finest innings to date.
“It was his most sedate innings but probably his best,” he told Sky Sports Cricket. “The responsibility, skill, and nous he showed was fabulous.”
“Could anybody else in the side have done it? Probably not,” added Morgan, which, given this is a batting line-up widely regarded as the finest England have possessed in one-day cricket, speaks volumes.
Buttler holds the record for England’s quickest century, from just 46 balls, and he had not faced 100 balls in an ODI prior to his innings at Old Trafford but his most measured knock is now perhaps his most memorable.
In truth, with England 114-8, the game to that point had been anything but. Buttler had produced a couple of moments of magic behind the stumps and Billy Stanlake’s opening spell should provide Australia with optimism but both innings were littered with soft dismissals and a dead rubber at the end of a one-sided series was looking like just that.
It took the unique talents of Buttler to ignite it but by the dying embers, the crowd were hooked. This was not the crash, bang, wallop of Trent Bridge where dot balls were greeted by fans’ ironic boos, quite the opposite. Dot ball after dot ball was cheered as Jake Ball successfully negotiated a nerve-jangling over from Ashton Agar.
England vs Australia
June 27, 2018, 6:00pm
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The noise at the end of it louder outstripped any that came from behind the stands as fans watched England’s 6-1 World Cup thrashing of Panama on big screens and rivalled the moment Buttler brought up his century with his only maximum of the day.
Buttler, ice-cold and in control as he had been throughout, took the day’s total to 413 runs when he hit the winning boundary, some 68 less than England managed alone earlier in the week but no one will have left Old Trafford on Sunday feeling short-changed.
The same, of course, can be said of those who witnessed the supreme display of ball striking from Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan in Nottingham, even though the result was effectively known between 35 overs into the England innings and 20 overs into the chase, depending on which side you were supporting and whether you are of an optimistic or pessimistic disposition.
3:55 Watch the best action from England's record breaking 481-6 against Australia in the third ODI at Trent Bridge
The games in Nottingham and Manchester over the past seven days have seen fans celebrating sixes sailing over their heads and the ball being dead-batted just centimetres off the strip in equal measure and that in itself is something to be celebrated, it is part of what makes cricket the sport that it is.
A barrage of fours and sixes is great and will get people coming back for more, but so will a nailing-biting finish – no matter how many runs are scored – and as long as England have superstars like Jos Buttler in their ranks, drawing people in to begin with will be that much easier.
Watch the one-off T20 international between England and Australia from 6pm, Wednesday on Sky Sports Cricket.
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